“Jews in the Wrong Place in San Diego” by Michael Mark

Michael Mark


So I get up from the metal benches
walk the concrete path around the ball field to watch
updates on my phone and a small man coming—
he has a big potato nose and those thick glasses
and I do what walkers do—step a half step over
make room and smile. He touches his heart
with his palm, holds it over his pale polo shirt
above his wide belly—

my legs keep their pace so he doesn’t see
the tears he made me make. He makes the bullets
the people real makes me a mourner a witness maybe
a human an us a them.

The temple is only 15 miles away
on this beautiful Saturday, Shabbos.
Beautiful girls and boys playing tee-ball.
He touches his heart makes the bullets
real the faces screams.

I know he is a Jew. His size his shape
the thin gold chain around his neck thick
Jew’s neck. If that’s wrong of me then
I’m wrong.

I can’t see it’s not a cross or a star
or dead wife’s ring hanging from a chain
like my father wears. He is a Jew who knows
I am a Jew.

The next time we meet up on the path
I don’t know if I should—I want to—touch
my heart back. I know I need him to. He does it again.
Slow pats, like slow heart beats.

What if it has nothing to do with the shooting
the murdered woman the three injured so far reported
the automatic weapon our history. It’s just
his way of saying showing me this is my heart
it’s right here under my chest. Maybe he does that
to every person he sees? That’s how he says good morning
every morning hello at the grocery store, at the dentist.

He walks so slow. Maybe he is sick maybe
his feet hurt maybe he is tired maybe
it’s the mourners walk maybe
he is walking with the dead he’s dead
maybe. He is a Jew.

I don’t want him to leave the park.
I turn as he passes, his loose pants, slump, still going.
The third time we meet I see his hands
don’t have a ring I want to see him pat his heart
but he doesn’t. He gives a thumbs up
his fist wrapped around his tissue.

And I know what he means, I’m sure,
We’re still here.

We are at the ball field
at the middle school. The wrong place
on Shabbos. We’re such Jews.
We’re still here.

from Poets Respond
May 5, 2019


Michael Mark: “On Saturday, April 27th, the holy day of rest for the Jewish people, a day of prayer, no work, no playing sports, a man entered a San Diego temple and fired his automatic weapon into the worshippers, killing and wounding because they were Jews.” (web)

Rattle Logo